Saturday, October 4, 2014

What if California were six states?

California does it big. Our population is over 38 million, the largest in the nation. If California were its own country, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would parallel Russia, a country with about 3.7 times the population of California. If you look at America’s map, you would see that California is physically huge—only Alaska and Texas are bigger than California.
So maybe that’s part of the reason why there has been a movement to break California into six pieces. This past year, the Six Californias initiative has been collecting signatures to put the issue on the November 2016 ballot, which would essentially be a vote on an amendment to the state constitution. Six Californias is an initiative headed by Tim Draper, a venture capitalist from Silicon Valley. Draper is a founding partner of Draper Associates, which has funded various successful projects, such as Hotmail, Skype, and Tesla. While critics have claimed that the initiative is to allow for greater Republican control, Draper has characterized his effort as one that brings fresh innovation to the state. 
Think of it as Sacramento being sort of… rusted. We need to do something structural, something fresh. … If we don’t try, we’re failing in our complacency. 
Unfortunately, for Draper, a few weeks ago the initiative failed to gather the requisite number of signatures to put the issue on the general ballot. The initiative came pretty close to being on the ballot, though: 752,685 out of 807,615 required signatures were collected. Californians will thus not be voting on whether to split the state into six pieces come 2016.
Suppose the movement had garnered enough signatures, Californians voted to divide its state, and Congress approved. The six proposed states would be Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California, and South California.
The two “rural” states, Jefferson and Central California, would be among the last in terms population. Jefferson would have a population of about 1.1 million, and Central California would have about 4 million. Contrast that to West California’s 11.5 million and South California’s 10.5 million. 
As a result, Six Californias would have been very good news—politically—to people living in rural areas. Since each new state could elect its own governor, legislators, and judges, the states would no longer be controlled by one single government in Sacramento. That means Jefferson and Central California would get to make their own laws without having to bargain with more populous areas, such as the Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles. It is worthy to note that there are more Republican than Democrat voters in Jefferson and Central California. The only other proposed state with more Republicans than Democrats is South California. All other proposed states have more Democrats than Republicans.
But leaving Jefferson and Central California out on their own would bring those states various economic challenges. Jefferson’s primary industries include logging, fishing, and ranching. Central California’s major industries include agriculture and food processing. Combining these industries with the lower populations of these two states, Jefferson and Central California would have a much lower GDP than the more populous states, such as Silicon Valley with its tech industry and West California with its entertainment industry. The rural states’ economies would strain to support essential, but expensive public services, such as state universities, MediCal, and state highways.
Furthermore, income disparities are already clear. Annual incomes in Central California would be a little under $40,000, and Jefferson would have the lowest at about $35,000. Compare that to Silicon Valley, which would have the highest annual per capita income of more than $80,000. West California would come in at a modest second place at about $55,000. North California and South California would have roughly similar incomes of about $50,000.
For now, Californians can rest assured that their state will not be split up into smaller pieces. Those living in present-day Jefferson and Central California will have to put up with Sacramento, but they won't be on the hook for the expensive public services that the state currently provides.  For Draper and his Silicon Valley executives, maybe next time they'll collect enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot -- California isn't breaking up anytime soon. 


Desi Fairly said...

It was a silly initiative, but extremely enlightening to consider California in smaller regions. Outside of the state, I think California is associated with the bright lights of Hollywood, large skyscrapers of San Francisco, and the crowed beaches of San Diego. The state is not stereotypically thought of as an agricultural hub or rural. The 2 of the new 6 states proposed by the initiative highlight that California does in fact have large geographic regions that are rural, sparsely populated, and agricultural. Those characteristics get lost when you consider the state as a whole.

Juliana said...

I agree with Desi's comment, that it is a very silly initiative, but also that California is thought of in very stereotypical tropes. Conceptually, thinking of California as six states does highlight that fact of how many natural and agricultural resources come from the two rural areas. California's central valley produces a large amount of national produce, as well as portions of southern California that depend on other parts of the state for resources such as water.